To Live

To Live

06.10-12.2019

Season of Spirituality 2019

 

A life of sanctity; a life of purpose; a life of intent.

Daily living attempted but is the time well spent?

To be blessed and have it reflected in the pathways one went

Rejecting the evil and the venom they often vent.

The wicked only lead the world into descent

Their anger proving nothing good, just to torment.

The crowds become flavored with their malcontent;

Yet goodness will be seen in its ascent.

Those who serve compassion will see their efforts augment.

It is our choice to reinvent,

Our duty to live a life we profess to represent.

And when our time on earth is spent,

It will be that which we did which will us represent.

 

[Loosely based upon Psalms 1-3]

 

What, When, Where but Mostly…Why?

What, When, Where but Mostly…Why?

05/07-08/2019

Easter 2019

 

In 2015 my series for Easter centered around philosophy.  This is a reposting of one of those posts.  I continue to be amazed at the people who feel philosophy and religion having nothing in common.  Then again, I am amazed at those who think spirituality and religion are polar opposites.  I received this question during that 2015 series and it is one that has been repeated throughout the past four years:   “I would describe this blog as a collection of different ways to think about theology so, as a believer yourself, what does philosophy have to do with theology?

 

In that first posting I wrote “What we think is based upon what we know.”  Today, four years wiser (hopefully!), I would “what we believe or hope to become true.”    First one has to establish what it is that we think we know.   Hegel once defined or described philosophy as “the study of its own history”.  I think this blog is a study of sorts of our history.  So, to me, discussing philosophy is something I do in one form or another every day in this blog.

 

As you know I divide these articles into series and, for organizational purposes, I divide the series based upon the Christian church calendar of the Episcopal Church.  Before making that decision, I studied various calendars.  After all, a calendar is merely an organizational tool, a way to divide the days in a year.  A year is a broader tool for organizing our lives, decades for organizing years, centuries for keeping track of decades, etc.  By using such organizational tools, I know when to write about certain things, the perspective to use in my approach and also how to locate what I have already written or learned, of remembering when I not only wrote about something but learned something.

 

Such an organizational tool has been utilized for centuries by mankind.  It is the reason we have different divisions of study such as theology and philosophy.  Theology was one way of answering the question “Where did we come from?”  Before long, in mankind’s quest to determine the meaning of life which is metaphysics, branches of philosophy led to questioning the nature of gained knowledge, the study of which is called epistemology. 

 

Epistemology asked questions much like the reader mentioned earlier.  How is knowledge justified?  What are the sources of knowledge?  How do we know what we know?  Rationalism believed that pure reason was the most reliable source of knowledge while empiricism maintained that experience was.  Skepticism purported doubts about various states of knowledge based upon external world skepticism (How can there be a world outside our own minds?) and what is called “other minds skepticism” (We have no proof of other minds other than our own.).  It also led to solipsism which stated “Only I exist”.

 

Logic or the study in an abstract form of the principles of reasoning was introduced and used to deduce and induce.  Deduction assumed certain truths without justification and then draws conclusions based upon those generally accepted premises.  Induction arrived at conclusions based upon certain premises and then employed hypotheses that could be proven after speculation.

 

Ethics came into being, that field of philosophy concerned with human actions, intent, and responsibilities.  Ethics involved not just knowledge but deciding what was right and what was wrong.  Amidst all the great philosophers is one man who is seldom thought of by the general populous as a philosopher.  That man’s name is Jesus of Nazareth.

 

Many people study Plato and Socrates, Aristotle and Descartes, Fichte and Schelling…. The list is plentiful.  These philosophers agreed and then disagreed with each other, though since they occupied different periods in history, not unilaterally.  All sought to explain life and the man known as Jesus of Nazareth explained mankind’s relationship with life.

 

In discussing last year the various types and sects of spirituality and religion, we found certain common truths.  The rule for living one with another often called the Golden Rule is found in eastern spiritualties as well as the Old and New Testaments.  I don’t think one can have any discussions about theology that do not include philosophy.  The” Why?” that religion seeks to answer is part of the greater “Why?” that philosophy seeks to determine.

 

I know a great many people in various religions and I don’t think I know just one person in any one religion or belief system.  I make that statement not because these people are confused about what they believe.  Most are adamant about what they believe.  I make such a statement because of the overlapping of beliefs that exist in various religions.  For example, most people in being generous and charitable to those in need.   Yet, none of those people all believe exactly the same thing in exactly the same way.  Our beliefs are as individual as we are and I don’t think that is necessarily wrong.

 

Where we do go wrong is when we believe a form of solipsism that says not “Only I exist” but rather “Only my thinking can exist”. We cannot seek respect and then fail to respect others.  We cannot believe only one group or gender deserves life, education, or basic human rights.  Man is a varied animals with different colors of mane, eyes, skin; different shapes of eyes; different lengths of body, noses, arms and legs.  What we look like is about as important to our classification and right to live as the various colors of a rose.  The hues of a rose are beautiful and interesting but they do not change the fact that it is a rose.  Philosophy reminds us to think, to question.  I hope that through this blog I encourage you to live.

 

Facing the Tides of Tomorrow

Facing the Tides of Tomorrow

04.28.2019

Easter 2019

 

Leonardo da Vinci described water as “the driving force of all nature”.  The 1937 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to a Hungarian biochemist, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi.  He is noted for a great many things but I think his definition of water is the best.  “Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium.  There is no life without water.”

 

Water is necessary for all living things, animal or vegetable and sadly it is not as abundant as the world needs.  Water became the answer when on man sought to discover what the world was made of by rational thought.  Known as Thales of Miletus, he is considered to be the first philosopher.  Because water is essential to all living things, Thales reasoned that everything must be derived from it.  Water exists in several forms: solid when cold; a gas when heated; liquid in what most consider its natural state.  From this beginning and the reasoning of Thales of Miletus comes the modern theory that all matter can be reduced to energy.

 

The Tao philosopher Lao Tzu also considered the philosophical properties of water in the sixth century BCE.  “Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water.  Yet, when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it.  So the flexible overcome the adamant; the yielding overcome the forceful.  Everyone knows this, but no one can do it.”

 

Thales reasoned that the earth grew out of the water that surrounded the land masses.  Over seventy-one percent of the earth’s mass is water, after all.  His student Anaximander reasoned that the earth must float on air.  If water supported the earth, he asked, what supported the water?  Anaximander believed everything could be reduced to air.  While neither man was correct, their argument/counterargument form of deduction still forms the basis for philosophical thought and discussion today.

 

OF course, though, philosophy encourages questioning and someone did just that after Thales and Anaximander.  Heraclitus proposed a “theory of opposites”.  He believed that rather than everything being derived from a single element, there was an underlying principle of change.  The world to him consisted of opposing tendencies.  His argument to support this theory was the basic fact that the path that went up a mountain was the same path that went down the mountain.  Another analogy was the fact the while a river remains constant, the water within it is constantly moving and flowing.  Heraclitus proposed that the reality we see as constant is really a reality of processes and changes.

 

Later Xenophanes would suggest that the knowledge we claim to know is just a hypothesis.  Our searches for knowledge start from working hypotheses but the actual ultimate knowledge, the “truth of reality” will always be beyond our grasp to understand.  Xenophanes believed in a cosmic composition of life, based upon two extremes – wet and dry.  He combined the Milesian ideas of air and water with Heraclitus’ views of opposites and used fossils to support his theories.  This was the first evidence-based argument recorded.

 

Philosophy would not remain in this mode of thinking for long.  It would evolve into theories based upon something being everything and nothing being impossible to be something.  We’ll save that for another day, though.  What we should focus on today as we start Monday and a new week is whether or not we are one element or living in a state of contrasting opposites.

 

Night falls at different times on the earth as the planet revolves through its orbit around the sun.  Just as the timing of the night is different so does what nighttime looks like.  For the child growing up in a refugee camp, night might be a period of cooler temps but scary flashes of light indicating mortar rounds being fired.  For the child snug in their bed in Paris, the City of Lights, nighttime is a warm blanket and a calming bedtime story.

 

Today I heard a story about a school-aged child whose class went on an over-night field trip to a state camp.  The two-day excursion included nature walks and environmental lessons.  The child’s class was to be the last to experience such a visit as the camp was deemed inefficient with a delinquent revenue stream.  Sitting around the campfire, the children listened to the sounds of the night.  Two weeks later, as he closed down the program and prepared for his next job, the director of the program received an envelope of thank-you notes from that last class.

 

The drawings of the various birds, and other wildlife discussed he had expected but it was the simple handwritten note of a young girl that truly touched him.  “Thank you,” she wrote, “for showing me what creation is really about.  I liked the walking, the trees, the flowers, and learning how to reuse things.  I liked seeing the baby rabbits and although it was scary, even the snake in the grass on the trail.  My favorite, though, was learning that nighttime can be nice.  At my house I cannot see the stars.  I see the restaurant signs.  We don’t have quiet on our block.  We hear cars and sometimes, gunshots.  At camp, I got to see the stars and hear the quiet and then the call of the night animals.  What I saw at camp was creation.  Bobby next door calls it Allah and my grandma calls it God.  I am just going to call it life.  Thank you for showing me what life can be.”

 

We all see life each and every day.  Like the water Lao Tzu spoke of, life can sometimes attack us and we might feel we cannot withstand it.  With knowledge though, and thought, we can learn to be flexible and by being flexible, gain strength.  Knowledge is power when applied properly.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr summed it up:  “Science investigates religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control.”

 

Wallace Stevens remarked that “Human nature is like water. It takes the shape of its container.”  The environment with which we surround ourselves influences us.  Alysha Speer compared life and water:   “You never really know what’s coming. A small wave, or maybe a big one. All you can really do is hope that when it comes, you can surf over it, instead of drown in its monstrosity.”

 

Many cultures use water as a type of rebirth, a cleansing of the old in preparation for the future.  Da Vinci pointed out that “in rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes.” 

 

Man does not live very long without water.  It is more than essential; it is life itself – both in birth and in destruction.  Most of us forget to really use water in our daily living.  Charlotte Eriksson offers us the best way, I believe, to face the morrow and our life.   “Take a shower, wash off the day. Drink a glass of water. Make the room dark. Lie down and close your eyes.  Notice the silence. Notice your heart. Still beating. Still fighting. You made it, after all. You made it, another day. And you can make it one more.  You’re doing just fine.”

Knowledge: Cause and Effect

Knowledge: Cause and Effect

04.25.2019

Easter 2019

 

Mankind took the leap to discover knowledge at the dawn of man.  In the creation stories of the Torah and the Bible, it was curiosity that led to sin and evil.  For many belief systems, education is still a privilege granted only to a select few or group.  Five years ago   the Nobel peace Prize was awarded to the youngest recipient ever, Malala Yousafzai,  because she dared to follow her dream to learn.

 

In the Christian tradition the fortieth day after Easter is known as Ascension Day.  It is the day Christians celebrate as being the day of Jesus Christ’s bodily ascension into heaven.  In a world with the philosophies of Anaximander, Aristotle, Boethus, Diogenes, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Leucippus, Parmenides, Plato, and Socrates, how, you might be asking, could they believe that a man could be crucified, buried, walk among people for forty days, and then ascend to the afterworld?  After all, Leucippus came up with the theory of atoms and he lived five centuries before the man known as Jesus of Nazareth.  How did people think those atoms could be destroyed, rejuvenate themselves, and then vanish into thin air?

 

As it gained momentum, the Christian Church in the form of the Roman Church became the vessel for all learning.  Scholasticism became the method of teaching and it used strict dialectical reasoning to teach Christian theology and to interpret the ancient classical texts of learning.  Using Aristotle’s approach of determining knowledge through our senses proved too down-to-earth for church leaders who felt it took away from the mystery of faith.

 

Nicholas of Cusa proposed something he termed “learned ignorance”.  According to Nicholas who was also known as Nicolaus von Kues, all knowledge came from “the One”, “the Good’.  God, according to Nicholas came before that so it was impossible for a mere human to truly know God.  Nicholas believed that one should use reason to understand this ignorance and that we only knew of God what we could through the “learned ignorance”.

 

Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus took exception with the Roman Catholic doctrine and felt one’s personal relationship with God was much more important that the doctrine of the Roman Church.  The knowledge of philosophy he saw as a hindrance to the basic human traits emphasized in scripture and preached by Jesus.

 

Knowledge had not been seen as evil by all belief systems, however.  Mohammed founded Islam and by the seventh century it had spread from Arabia to Asia and Africa and then to parts of Spain.  Rivaling the empire of Christian Europe, Islam entered into what is known as its “Golden Age” around 750 ACE.  This period lasted for more than five centuries as learning and discovery was encouraged in the field of math, sciences, and scholarship.  Major advances were made in astronomy, alchemy, medicine, and mathematics and Aristotle’s philosophy was smoothly integrated with Islamic tenets of faith.

 

The Islamic philosopher Avicenna proposed a “flying man” theory which married knowledge gained from our senses and reason.  He offered that a man flying blindfolded and floating in the air would still know he had a soul or self, even though his senses were not giving him any information.  According to Avicenna, one’s mind and body coexist but as distinct entities.  He also suggested that if this is true, then the mind or soul existed in a different realm than the body and did not die when the physical body did.

 

Not surprisingly, Avicenna’s theories were not accepted by all.  Al-Ghazali was an Islamic philosopher who felt such beliefs were contrary to the Qur’an.  The Iberian Islamic philosopher Averroes or Ibn Rushd disagreed.  He argued that the Qur’an presented metaphorical truths and that, instead of any incompatibility between religion and philosophy, philosophy could be used to interpret religion.  This way of thinking was similar to the paradoxes of Plato.  They also greatly influence Christian philosophy of the period.

 

The conquests by Christian crusaders in the eleventh century are seen by many as an unjust invasion and their beliefs can be understood.  These invasions unlocked Europe to the knowledge of the Islamic world, though, and soon the influence of such spread throughout Europe, leading to the Renaissance and the losing of control over scholarship and knowledge previously held by the Roman Church.

 

Whether you believe in the ascension of a man who previously presented as a mere mortal or whether you fail to believe in any religion, one cannot deny basic principles of life and our living.  We all need air to breath.  Plants use photosynthesis to convert light energy into chemical energy and then into carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere and creates the air we breathe.  The plants in my garden in one hemisphere are not the same plants I had when living in another.  Yet, they still follow the same basic processes in their growth, their blossoms or fruits, their harvest, their period of dormancy, and their value.

 

For one day a year, the Christian Church celebrates the ascension of the central figure in its teachings.  Yet, do we live every other day in dissension and the descent of knowledge?   What I do or do not do today affects my tomorrow.  The Hindu mystic Swami Vivekananda says “The will is not free; it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect, but there is something behind the will which is free.”  American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Shallow men believe in luck.  Strong men believe in cause and effect.  Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end preexists in the means, the fruit in the seed.”

 

Mankind has always been curious and that curiosity has fueled a quest for knowledge that continues today.   Regardless of the period of history or location on the planet or even in space, we are constantly learning as we live.  Living in the northwest part of the USA, young adult author Richelle Goodrich sums up our ascent into living and the subsequent knowledge gained from it this way:  “You are here to make a difference, to either improve the world or worsen it. And whether or not you consciously choose to, you will accomplish one or the other.”

 

I fear the real truth is much simpler and in its simplicity, much more complicated to live.  We cannot spend time on this earth without affecting it.  We occupy space and the air we inhale and exhale affects our environment.  We all have a carbon footprint and that also affects the future.  How we gain in knowledge is really up to us.  That is the simple part.  The complications arise when we live or fail to live our beliefs.  We do make a difference by being on this planet and we will either leave it a better place or worsen it.  The future is the fruit of the seed of our actions today.  What will you decide to do?  How will your curiosity lead to greater knowledge?

 

 

Hope Floats Us All

Hope Floats Us All

Day 39 – Palm Sunday*

Lent 2019

 

I remember reading a biography of a military strategist.  “The outcome [of a particular military campaign] was inevitable.  There was no hope at all of a victory.”  I stopped and reread the previous several pages because I thought I must have missed something.  I had expected this man to be on the side that ultimately won but here he was saying that this major battle was doomed for failure.  I actually reread the pages three times and finally on the fourth time, read them aloud.  I had missed nothing and so I continued forward.  Then I read the last sentence of the chapter.  “Fortunately, the leaders were better at encouraging their men then in military rational.  They had hope and their hope won the battle, a battle that, on paper, was never theirs to win.  Hope that day was the best strategy.”

 

As I remarked yesterday, I do not presume to know what was in the speaker’s mind when he uttered the words we now call the Beatitudes.  I do think their purpose and his intention was to offer hope.  The goodness offered within the text speaks of the expectation of not great times but also the optimism those times can ultimately create.

 

Hope is not the same as optimism.  Optimism is a feeling that sees the good and its approach is quite positive.  Hope is an emotion that often arises in the midst of turmoil, of despair, of grief.  Hope is a choice.  We can choose fear or we can choose hope.

 

Barbara Fredrickson describes hope this way.  “Hope literally opens us up. It removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture. We become creative, unleashing our dreams for the future.  This is because deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change. No matter how awful or uncertain they are at the moment, things can turn out for the better. Possibilities exist. Belief in this better future sustains us. It keeps us from collapsing in despair. It infuses our bodies with the healing rhythms of positivity. It motivates us to tap into our signature capabilities and inventiveness to turn things around. It inspires us to build a better future.”

 

Psychologist C. S. Snyder, in his book “The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There from Here” defined hope as a “motivational construct” that allows one to believe in positive outcomes, conceive of goals, develop strategies, and muster the motivation to implement them.  While not actively studied until the last twentieth century, it has become apparent that we need hope not only in times of chaos and turmoil but all the time.

 

I believe the Beatitudes to be a commentary of life.  We all will face despair, grief, will feel meek, will hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We also, hopefully, will strive to be peacemakers, be merciful, and pure in heart.  At some point in our lives, we all feel the thorns of persecution.  Hope is the antidote to all of those negative feelings and the motivation for the positive ones.   Perhaps poet Emily Dickinson describes it best:  “Hope is the thing with feathers; that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”

*In case you are wondering how Lent can have forty days and Palm Sunday means there are still seven days left in Lent, yet I am at day 39…. In this counting, because many readers are of different faiths, I count each day straightforward.  In the “forty” days of Lent, Sundays are not included in the count.

The Basis of Belief – All Lives Matter

The Basis of Belief – All Lives Matter

Days 37-38

Lent 2019

 

Religious freedom is not just something discussed and guaranteed in the United States Constitution, although that document was one of the first to include it in a government’s laws and stated human rights.  It has been the goal of mankind since beliefs became diverse and openly discussed.  Clearly the first deliverance of the Jewish people from the bondage in Egypt was not a cure-all.  In the mid twentieth century Adolf Hitler sought to not only enslave them but to eradicate them, even though he himself was of Jewish descent.   “We were redeemed from Egypt because of the righteousness of the women of that generation.”  This sentence is found in the Talmud, the Jewish holy book.   

 

Today many people are seeking freedoms, both for religious purposes but also for just basic living.  Sarah Aaronsohn was born at the end of the nineteenth century and spent her life trying to obtain freedom for Palestine from Turkish rule.  She was tortured for her efforts but remained strong and determined, faithful to her religion.  Lina Abarbanell was an opera singer of high acclaim.  She retired from singing but not from the stage and became a worldwide director of such wonderful operas as “Porgy and Bess”.  Born in Germany immediately after the end of World War I, Rosalie Silberman Abella took her experience as a refugee and used it as motivation to help others.  She became the first Jewish woman elected to the Supreme Court of Canada.  Ruth Abrams became the first woman to serve on the Massachusetts Supreme Court, championing both women and minorities through her legal career.  Ruth Ginsberg is a vigilant and powerful presence in the United States Supreme Court today.

 

Lithuanian Dina Abramowicz was a Holocaust survivor from World War II.  While many hold that librarians are quiet, dull people, usually female, Dina proved them wrong.  As the head librarian of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, she helped recreate the rich heritage of the Jewish culture and people after WWII.  Bella Abzug was a New Yorker who also proved the strength of the Jewish woman.  Throughout her three terms as a U.S. Congresswoman, she advocated for and helped pass ground-breaking legislation for equal rights and particularly the right of women to play intramural sports in schools.

 

More recently Jill Abramson was the first female executive editor of the New York Times and promoted women within the organization as well as featuring stories regarding gender equality and racial injustice.  Rachel Adler sought to achieve gender equality within her own faith and was a pioneer of the Jewish feminist movement.  Born fifty years earlier, Paula Ackerman had taken over leadership of her rabbi husband’s congregation upon his death, a move that was met with support from the members of their synagogue.   Amy Alcott is a fantastic golfer who was recognized in the World Golf Hall of Fame.  Sue Alexander is a founding member of the International Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. 

 

The Beatitudes offer us a reason to continue to believe, in spite of what life throws at us.  They also have, for many, provided a foundation for which to live.  With no mission board to support or guide her and less than ten dollars in her pocket, Gladys Aylward left her home in England to answer God’s call to take the message of the gospel to China.  Amy Carmichael is an Irish missionary who spent fifty-three years in South India without a break.  Both women believed that their Creator would provide for their needs.

 

Dr. Helen Roseveare graduated in medicine from University of Cambridge in the late 1940′s. A well-known missionary doctor and author, with several of her works still in print, she worked in the north-eastern province of the Belgian Congo with the Heart of Africa Mission in the 1950′s & 60′s.  Art critic John Ruskin enthusiastically proclaimed her potential as one of the best artists of the nineteenth century, but Lilias Trotter’s devotion to Christ compelled her to surrender her life of art, privilege, and leisure. Leaving the home of her wealthy parents for a humble dwelling in Algeria, Lilias defied stereotypes and taboos that should have deterred any European woman from ministering in a Muslim country. Yet she stayed for nearly forty years, befriending Algerian Muslims with her appreciation for literature and art and winning them to Christ through her life of love.

 

Khadīja Khuwaylid Even was an important figure in her own right even before her famous marriage to the Prophet Muhammad, since she was a successful merchant and one of the elite figures of Mecca. She played a central role in supporting and propagating the new faith of Islam and has the distinction of being the first Muslim. 

 

One of the most important mystics (or Sufis) in the Muslim tradition, Rābi‘a al-‘Adawīyya spent much of her early life as a slave in southern Iraq before attaining her freedom. She is considered to be one the founders of the Sufi school of “Divine Love,” which emphasizes the loving of God for His own sake, rather than out of fear of punishment or desire for reward. She lays this out in one of her poems:

“O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,

and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.

But if I worship You for Your Own sake,

grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.”

 

Throughout history women have been prevented from participating in a great many things, including religion.  Throughout history women have lived and fought for their religious beliefs and freedoms, finding strength in the cause and effects echoed in the Beatitudes.  These named represent a small minority of the thousands of thousands of brave and spiritual women who have lived according to their beliefs.  The list just goes on and on as these women have found purpose and strength from their faith. 

 

A news story today chronicles a suggested answer to the high number of people illegally entering the United States was to “dump them” in various locations across the country.  It should be noted that attorneys within involved agencies rejected this offer.  Throughout history women have been prevented from attaining an education and were considered good only as slaves, much like these immigrants have become – slaves and prisoners to an inept and ineffective system.  The fact is that all lives matter and we need to address issues as if we ourselves were the victims of the problems.  After all, whyat affects one really will, at some point, affect us all.  We truly and effectively need to treat others as we would want to be treated if we are to have success in living.

 

The women mentioned here today, as well as those in education, health care, and politics, live their belief that all lives matter.  After all, why do we believe and go through our daily living if it is not to help us live better and leave the world a better place?

 

 

 

 

 

Caution: Life is Habit-Forming

Caution: Life is Habit-Forming

Days 33-36

Lent 2019

 

In this series entitled Lent 2019 we have been discussing self-knowledge.  Knowledge that is not used serves no purpose so what should we do with our knowledge?  The best answer I know is to use our knowledge of the world and ourselves to form good and positive habits. 

 

The American Journal of Psychology (1903) defines a habit as “A habit, from the standpoint of psychology, is a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience.”  Yikes!  That definition doesn’t leave much room for growth of thought.

 

Habits are simply those behaviors that we do routinely, often without conscious thought.  They are not responses we necessarily were born with but they have by virtue of repetition become automatic responses to repetitive stimuli.  Habits can be either good or not helpful.  Many people automatically smoke a cigarette after eating a meal.  They certainly were not born doing that.  An example of a good habit is washing one’s hands after using the restroom or before preparing food or eating.

 

Writer Charles Duhigg published a book several years ago entitled “The Power of Habit”.  In it he explored the science of habits and how marketing specialists use the steps in acquiring a habit to advertise and convince us to make purchases of their products.

 

While I might not like the above-mentioned definition of a habit in American Journal of Psychology, one cannot deny the psychology of forming habits.   Each habit we have begins with what is called the “habit loop”.  This is a three-step process and every habit we have developed went through all three steps.

 

 

First there is the cue or trigger.  Then there is the actual behavior or habit itself.  Then there is the reward which is how our brains remember the behavior.   Habits are formed in the basal ganglia, that section of our brain that also handles and controls emotions, memories, and – no surprise – pattern recognition.  A habit is a pattern we create because of the reward we receive.

 

Decisions are from a different part of our brains, the prefrontal cortex.  Whenever a behavior becomes a habit, we no longer need a decision to make it and the prefrontal cortex decision-making section can take it easy.  “In fact, the brain starts working less and less,” says Duhigg. “The brain can almost completely shut down. … And this is a real advantage, because it means you have all of this mental activity you can devote to something else.”

 

The modern way of describing this is to say you are able to “multitask”.  In other words, because frying eggs is a habit, you can talk while cooking; you can open a door or water your garden while dialing your phone.  “You can do these complex behaviors without being mentally aware of it at all,” Duhigg writes. “And that’s because of the capacity of our basal ganglia: to take a behavior and turn it into an automatic routine.”

 

A change of scenery can change that behavior, however.  People might park a certain way every day at the office but when they go on vacation, how they park will change because their location and environment is different.

 

Even what we hear can make a difference in our habits.  Sometimes we fail to realize that improving our self-knowledge might be a phrase often heard in real estate – location, location, location.  The people with which we associate as well as the environment in which “hang out” does and will have a great impact on our habits.

 

Conor Neill, an instructor at the University of Navarre in Barcelona, Spain, developed a list of personal habits he felt were necessary for personal success.  They included Goal Setting (Dreams to Goals to Actions); Time Management; Fit Mind and Body; Personal Vision (What on Earth am I here for?); ; Integrity – build trust; Personal Finances – getting them in order; Good Social Life; Strong Relationships (with partner, family and kids); Resilience (head in the sky, feet on the ground); Self-Motivation; Self-Acceptance ; Fun; Attracting and Using Mentors and Advisors; Being Open to and Seeking Coaching; Giving with Intention; Inspiring Others – gets others to do stuff; Reflection – setting aside time for reflection.

 

Some of these are things we have spent time discussing in this blog while growing a better self, a garden of spirit and soul through past Lenten seasons.  They are worth noting and discussing again because habits help define who we are.  Most of us can remember an adult that was influential throughout our lives and probably one of the characteristics we really remember about this person was a habit of theirs. 

 

The great thing about habits is that when one becomes unsuccessful for us, we can change it.  They are not cast in stone.  Life is about adapting because no two days are going to be exactly the same.  Too often we expect perfection of ourselves and we expect in instantly.  Life is a process.  When we allow ourselves time to develop and determine what works for us and what should become a habit, then we reap the harvest and reward of a life lived with intention, a life well-lived.